The first foray into league competition among MAAC teams takes place Friday night, and it's a good one: Siena at Rider, 7 p.m., at the Broncs' Alumni Gymnasium in Lawrenceville, N.J.
It's a matchup of last year's regular-season and post-season tournament champion Siena against the team its own coach, Tommy Dempsey, voted in the coaches' preseason poll to win the league crown.
Instead, the Broncs underachieved finishing with a 9-9 MAAC record and a 17-16 overall mark.
Siena is still expected to contend for conference honors this year ... and Dempsey gave them one of three first-place votes from coaches in this year's preseason poll.
Rider? The expectations weren't so high this year for the Broncs. At least not until the early returns started coming in.
Right now, Rider's 4-1 non-league record is the best among conference teams. Included have been impressive victories at USC and against TCU and Loyola Marymount, the latter two coming in the Hall of Fame's Tip-Off Tournament in Springfield, Mass.
Right away, then, two of the conference's better teams face off to tip off MAAC play.
"It's a good test right away," said Dempsey. "But my view since the preseason vote hasn't changed. I didn't vote us first this year. Until proven otherwise no one else (other than Siena) has earned the right to be voted first. Until someone shows that they're better than Siena ... they've just been so dominant in our league. They've still got a lot of good players. I'm not ready to jump on any other bandwagon."
While Rider is 4-1, Siena is off to a 1-3 start with losses against solid Vermont and two top 25 teams, Minnesota and Butler. The Saints' one victory was at Northeastern.
"It's interesting to have a chance to go up against them so early," said Dempsey, whose team might get a good indication from the game of just how good it might be this year.
Last year's meetings, certainly, told a story about Rider that Dempsey didn't enjoy.
Siena won both easily by a combined margin of 48 points. The Saints also beat the Broncs in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament by 10 points.
"They were just clearly so much better than we were last year," admitted Dempsey.
First-year Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro knows, though, that his team is in for a tougher match Friday than in last year's meetings.
"That's a tough game," said Buonaguro. "We go right from playing Butler (Tuesday night) to having to go down there and play a good Rider team."
"We feel good about our start so far," added Dempsey. "But we know we'll ultimately be judged by how we do in league play."
And, that starts tonight. With a good one to tip off the 2010-11 MAAC season.